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Dyeing with Children

There are extra safety concerns when dyeing with children, so an adult organizing such activities should know which ingredients are potentially harmful. Here are some items you can safely allow children to try dyeing with:

  • cream of tartar mordant (helps color stick to wool)

  • onion skins (shades of tan yellow)

  • walnut hulls (tan and brown, can get black if using an iron pot)

  • sawdust from a smoke tree or cutch tree (bright yellow)

  • sunflowers, cosmos, coreopsis, marigolds, or other flowers (mostly yellows)

  • eucalyptus leaves (light shades of green, gray, or blue)

  • pokeberries, blueberries, raspberries or other berries (reds, blues, and purples - technically a stain, but the color lasts if not exposed to sunlight)

  • Kool-Aid (not natural, but VERY effective - donít spill it!!)

Read the Dyeing Basics information so you can discuss aspects of dyeing the children will understand (i.e. stain vs. dye, wet fibers look darker, discuss pH with older children).  Follow the same dyeing precautions you would for poisonous dyes:

  1. Do not dye in pots you will later use for food.

  2. Make sure that anything that touches dye substances or liquids will never touch food - i.e. measuring and stirring spoons, scales, thermometers, jars, etc.

  3. Cover your work area with newspapers and plastic that can be thrown out later.

  4. Wear gloves, and move your fiber around with dowels, spoons, etc. instead of your hand.

  5. Dye in a well-ventilated area or outdoors.

  6. Rinse fibers thoroughly after dyeing to remove all excess chemicals.

  7. Do not inhale steam from your dye baths.

  8. If you experience any itching, burning, rash, shortness of breath, or other reaction, GET AWAY from the dye bath.

Reinforce the rules with the children, and remind them that even if they're dyeing with something that would be edible normally, they should not eat it or lick their fingers while using it as a dyestuff.

If the children can't be trusted with a stove, try dyeing in the microwave! Collect disposable plastic containers like Chinese soup take-out or ice cream gallons. Fill each container with water, some dyestuff, and a small amount of fiber (yarn or fabric).  Then microwave and watch through the window as the color bleeds into the water and then into the fiber. Chopsticks and plastic spoons make good disposable implements for measuring dyestuffs and stirring.

Another idea for children is to have them collect plants they think might yield a good dye and then try dyeing with them. Most plants will yield yellows, but the kids will still get a kick out of the suspense.

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created May 4, 2001

Last updated February 18, 2003